AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — COVID-19 numbers are dropping, more people are getting vaccinated. Restrictions are gradually being lifted, and comfort levels are returning. And so are the visitors.
Amarillo has fared better than many cities around the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, including having the lowest unemployment rate in Texas, and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.
Those numbers include the tourism and travel industry in Amarillo, which according to Kashion Smith, Executive Director of the Amarillo Convention & Visitors Bureau, tends to do better in economic recovery.
“We know in Amarillo, the hospitality and tourism industry always recover faster,” Smith said. “We say that I-40 is a gift, and it truly is a vein that supports our industry. But we really did not expect what we saw.”
What they saw was last quarter of 2020 numbers out performing numbers they saw in 2019, which itself was a growth year for Amarillo. In 2019, Amarillo’s tourism industry had over 9,000 workers that it supported. Before 2019, Smith said, the Amarillo travel and tourism industry saw three years of steady growth.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to its knees, the desire for people to travel, was the one thing that never waned. And Amarillo fared better for it.
“We very fast got an understanding that people wanted to travel whether they could or not,” Smith said. “So what we saw was as the airlines declined, we were the perfect spot for people to get in the car with their family, and take a weekend trip. So we actually started seeing recovery at the fourth quarter of last year (2020).”
Visitors to the Amarillo area spent $919.6 million in Amarillo city limits in 2019. That’s over $2.5 million a day pumping into the local economy. Travelers also generated $81.4 million in tax revenue. That’s 61% of the area’s total tax revenue.
Amarillo has long held a reputation of being a pass through market. A place to stop for gas, food, to stretch your legs, or rest up for the night on a long trip. But now, Smith said, is a golden opportunity for Amarillo to cement itself as a destination city.
“What we are trying to take advantage of, is the change in travel patterns. So, whether somebody has utilized us as a pass through for the first time, we’re really wanting to take that visitor and give them a destination message,” she said. “We don’t want to create more pass through, we want to create that destination feel. We want them to pull into Amarillo and think ‘this is the end game. This is where I’m going to have my vacation.'”
For those destination seekers, Smith said, Amarillo has over 25 true attractions. Including Palo Duro Canyon, Route 66, TEXAS Outdoor Musical, the Amarillo Museum of Art, Wonderland, Discovery Center, and Botanical Gardens.
And for you foodies, Amarillo has plenty of options and tastes across many cultures, for you as well.
Looking for ideas for date night? Amarillo has plenty of those as well. Amarillo, Smith said, is the one city in Texas where you can go horseback riding on a ranch, hiking or a Jeep tour in the Palo Duro Canyon. If that’s not you or your date’s thing, there’s the Amarillo Symphony, the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the Amarillo Venom just to name a few.
Whatever your taste is, Smith said, Amarillo has something for everybody. And this travel season, much like the country as it looks to put the COVID-19 pandemic in the rear view mirror, is looking up.
“What we do know, is that we’re gearing up for a summer that is very likely to be the biggest we’ve ever seen.”
Sounds like a good deal.
For more information about things to do in Amarillo, click here.